Smell: Nothing is as complex as the world of fragrances

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Smell: Nothing is as complex as the world of fragrances
Smell: Nothing is as complex as the world of fragrances

Nothing is as complex as the world of fragrances

According to the psychologist Bettina Pause, researchers have long neglected the human sense of smell. In fact, the "secret boss" of the senses affects how smart, he althy, and happy we are.

Ms. Pause, in your book "Everything smells" you describe how the sense of smell influences our communication and intelligence. Why has this human sense been underestimated for so long?

On the one hand, this is due to the philosophical tradition of regarding the world of smells as something negative, animalistic. This began with the ancient Greeks and had a particularly clear impact on rationalism and the Enlightenment. Immanuel Kant understood human beings as beings of pure reason who, unlike animals, have free will and can act independently. For him, the sense of smell was something that subjugates and binds us to emotions. We want to be the crown of creation and not on the same level as the animals. This view pervades cognitive psychology to this day. Even the current textbooks devote only a small chapter, if at all, to the sense of smell, and some of them convey knowledge that dates back to the 1920s.

Isn't the ephemeral world of fragrance particularly difficult to explore?

Yes, the methodology is extremely complex because smells have special properties. On the one hand, there is the rapid habituation: if we expose test persons to the same scent a few times, in the end they no longer smell it at all. On the other hand, the odor molecules are gaseous and difficult to control. With tones I can determine the sound frequency, with images the color spectrum. This is not the case with fragrances. Experimenting with them requires a complicated piece of equipment called an olfactometer. During my time as a PhD student I had to build one myself, today you can…

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